Monday 19 March 2018

The late Michael English was more than just a kicker

Sean Diffley

Possibly the most famous story regarding Mick English is his frustrated comment about the England out-half, Phil Horrocks-Taylor. Remember?

"Horrocks went one way and Taylor the other and I was left with the bloody hyphen."

It certainly went down well in his after-dinner commitments but, in truth, it never happened as Mick admitted to me many years ago.

You see, Horrocks-Taylor never played against Ireland, but both played in the 1950s for the Wolfhounds, though they might have tossed in a hyphen or two on those occasions.

The late Michael English succeeded Jack Kyle as Ireland's out-half in 1958 and was the incumbent until Mike Gibson became the out-half in 1964. For the most part in his 16 caps, his scrum-half and often captain was Andy Mulligan.

He was, of course, most noted for his obsession with kicking rather than depending on other options, but even that often produced instances of the English apres match style.

Queried once about a try-scoring opportunity, he explained: "Yes, I know I was only a couple of yards from the goal line, but I was only a couple of feet from the touchline, so I considered my options and kicked for touch."

But to dismiss English as just a kicker would be wrong. None other than that great Welsh out-half Cliff Morgan, who rated Kyle as the best opponent he ever played against, believed English was the most awkward and difficult.

Morgan has said that "Mick would come up in defence alongside -- or even ahead -- of his back row. He never gave you a moment's peace and he was granite hard."

English hailed from Limerick and won a Munster Cup medal with Bohemians in those days when you had to be granite hard and then played in Dublin for Lansdowne where they are not softies either.

In his first Irish cap, English replaced Kyle for the second match of the 1958 season, which was against a Welsh team, for whom Cliff Morgan was playing for the 26th time.

Noel Henderson and Tony 0'Reilly were the Irish centres with Ronnie Dawson, Gordon Wood, Bill Mulcahy, Noel Murphy and Ronnie Kavanagh in the pack.

Wales won, but the Irish lost their scrum-half after 20 minutes. Johnny 0'Meara departed injured and, by the laws of the game in those days, was not replaced.

English was then working in his native Limerick and forever relished a letter from a work colleague in the 'Limerick Leader', Mai Purcell, when the news came that he was being awarded his first international cap.

Mai's missive read: "Mickie -- I should like to impress on you that I am spending me whole week's wages, viz £3.00, on the trip to Dublin just to see you play and I beseech you not to make an eejit of yourself on this occasion.

"I furthermore request that on this auspicious afternoon, mindful of your duties and responsibilities, not only to your club and people of Limerick, but to our country as a whole, that you will keep your bloody eye on the ball. Good Luck and God Bless -- Mai."

So rest in peace, Mick.

Irish Independent

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